September 5, 2016

Potential Suspects: Who bombed Davao City?

The Roxas Night Market is an extremely popular hangout place for Davaoeños. Located at the heart of downtown Davao, locals flock the place to find cheap and delicious eats, oftentimes in the company of family and friends. Its setup is similar to the Banchetto in Mandaluyong’s Ortigas Center and the Midnight Mercato in Taguig’s Bonifacio Global City.

September 2nd, a Friday, was another fun-filled day for Roxas Night Market regulars. That is, until around 10:00 PM when a bomb exploded, killing at least 14 people and injuring at least 60 others [ABS]. The entire nation was in shock. How can something like this happen in no less than the President’s home town?

Potential Suspects

Davao City is close to my heart, and I have been grieving for two days. While I was born and raised in Luzon, it was my three years in Davao City that taught me how to be human. While I was born Tagalog, my heart is totally Bisaya.

But now that the smoke has slightly cleared, it is time to analyze the fateful incident and see what can be done about it. At this point, I will set aside everything I feel about the incident and examine the situation using nothing but logic and history. Specifically, I will list down all the potential suspects, and examine, based on past news articles, the probability of each entity on the list being the actual culprit. Note that this is just a tentative list, but any investigation needs a starting point, and this is it.

This bears repeating: I will set aside all my emotions for now and I will evaluate the list as objectively as I can. Now, let’s tentatively list down the possible suspects.
  1. Duterte Administration
  2. The Liberal Party
  3. Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)
  4. Drug Cartels
  5. The United States
  6. China
This is a pretty diverse list, right?

Let's start.

1st Suspect: Duterte Administration

This is the Yellow Fan Favorite.

Some members of the opposition would expectedly try to pin this incident on Duterte, as it can be compared to the August 1971 Plaza Miranda Bombing that killed nine and injured 95, mostly oppositionist Liberal Party supporters [LP]. The Liberal Party blamed then-President Ferdinand Marcos for the incident, alleging that the latter used it to justify the imposition of Martial Law [MT].

Incidentally, it’s also the Liberal Party who’s in the opposition today. And this is what they would like us to believe this angle, especially since they are fond of painting Duterte as a megalomaniacal dictator-wannabe.

But there’s a problem.
FIRST, Duterte has no thirst for power. Duterte has been offered the DILG post by former presidents Ramos, Estrada, Aquino, and Arroyo, and he declined all of them [AC, Inq], despite his full knowledge that the DILG post is the perfect springboard for running for higher office.

Duterte was also offered to be the 2016 vice-presidential running mate of Roxas [GMA] and Binay [GMA], but he declined. He was continuously pushed to run for president, but he declined every time, even going as far as saying only an alien abduction of Roxas, Binay, and Poe, will force to make him run [Inq], and it was only a last-minute large-scale, grassroots call for him to run [GMA] that finally changed his mind.

No, these are not the deeds of someone who’s hungry for power.

SECOND, Davao City is Duterte’s obra maestra. The man spent thirty years transforming an economic backwater into a booming cosmopolitan city. With Duterte’s leadership, what was once a killing field in the late ‘80s turned into a safe and secure city with a vibrant economy [Edge].

At 71, it’s unlikely that he can leave a legacy more prominent than that, so why would he mess it up?

THIRD, Duterte’s family lives in Davao. Why would he bomb a city where his children and grandchildren live? Why would he turn it into a hell-hole? It does not make sense.

If he really wanted to bomb a city for his alleged political motives, he would’ve bombed NCR cities instead. If I were Duterte and I wanted to a sequel to the Plaza Miranda Bombing, I would’ve bombed the Araneta Center, where the Liberal Party Headquarters is. But it isn’t the case.

So no, Duterte probably didn’t do it.

2nd Suspect: The Liberal Party

Many Duterte Die-hard Supporters say the Liberal Party did it. After all, the bombing fits perfectly into their plan. Despite the lack of evidence [TP: Gascon], the Liberal Party has managed to convince the international community that Duterte is a megalomaniac. With the bombing, and assuming that Duterte will declare Martial Law as a result, then LP would have succeeded in making him look not only megalomaniacal, but also dictatorial.

From the LP's point of view, this also happens to be the perfect diversion. The public has been feasting on LP Senator Leila de Lima and her alleged drug links, so the LP could have possibly copied former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile’s alleged Zamboanga Siege Tactic [Inq].

There is one major issue with this theory, however.
There is no evidence so far that suggests LP’s complicity in the Davao City bombing incident. I am not Leila de Lima, so I do not like accusing without sufficient evidence. Yes, the motives are there, but motives alone are not enough to prove criminal liability.

LP as a potential suspect? Yes.

LP as the most probable suspect? No, not yet.

3rd Suspect: Abu Sayyaf Group

Prior to the incident, Duterte said the government has received threats from the IS-linked terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) [TP: Video]. The Philippine National Police (PNP) also blamed ASG for the bombing incident [AlJazeera].

Yesterday, ABS-CBN reported that ASG owned up to the Davao blast [ABS]. The problem, however, is the fact that ABS-CBN failed to include a direct quote from ASG’s spokesman categorically saying that ASG did it. Not surprisingly, CNN reported this morning that ASG’s spokesman categorically denied ASG alleged involvement in the bombing incident [CNN].

I hate to admit it, but ASG’s denial makes some sense. Let me explain why.

FIRST, shrapnel found in the blast site are similar to ones found after the 2003 Sasa Wharf and Davao Airport Bombings [Sun.Star]. While this may qualify as circumstantial evidence, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are relatively low-tech bombs so the technology used in them is hardly proprietary. That is, even if the ASG can create such an IED, other groups can create similarly-designed IEDs too.

SECOND, ThinkingPinoy received a PNP internal memo dated 26 August 2016 that warns local police stations of a possible ASG bomb plot in Davao or Metro Manila. The memo is shown below:

The memo mentions suicide bombers. However, Davao was bombed using a standalone IED. That is, the PNP may be talking about a bomb threat that’s totally separate from whatever happened last Friday.

THIRD and most importantly, Abu Sayyaf has never denied involvement with terrorist activities before.

Terrorists feed on terrifying the populace, so it’s just logical for them to own up to any successfully perpetrated terrorists attack. After all, that’s just like getting extra street cred for free. I searched for any page published before 01 September 2016 that contains “Abu Sayyaf denies” [Google], and not a single article showed such an ASG denial in the past.

What’s the point? If ASG denied involvement, then it may actually be, at least partially, true.

The Duterte government has already been waging war on ASG for several weeks now, with Duterte reportedly planning to ramp up troops two days before the bombing incident [WSJ].

If I were the ASG, I would prefer a long protracted guerrilla war where troops trickle in, instead of an all-out government offensive that may overwhelm my terrorist forces. If I were ASG, I can more manageably resist government forces that way.

What would bombing Davao City do? That may just coax Duterte on going full-force against ASG, and that’s the last thing ASG wants, and that’s exactly what happened when Duterte announced Saturday – a few hours after the Davao bombing – that he will send 7,000 troops to eradicate ASG.

While I cannot totally discount ASG’s involvement, the latter’s spokesterrorist actually makes at least a little sense when he denied the group’s involvement.

4th Suspect: Drug Cartels

Regardless of whether you’re for or against Duterte’s war on drugs, the fact remains that it has yielded very tangible results, one of which is decreasing profit margins for drug syndicates [TP: PH Drug Industry].

Some may argue that bombings is not the style of drug cartels but the US military says otherwise [US Mil].

Now, Duterte is pretty difficult to assassinate, having survived terrorist-infested Mindanao for over 70 years. Thus, drug cartels can, at least for now, attempt to destabilize his government by bombing no less than his home town.

This is a very interesting angle given that three inmates bolted a North Cotabato prison just two weeks ago. These inmates were facing charges of illegal possession of explosives and illegal drugs [Inq].

Three drug dealers who happen to know something about explosives magically escaped prison. Two weeks later, an IED blast rocks Davao city, home of the president who’s in the middle of the war against drugs.

Go figure.

5th Suspect: United States Government

The United States has been very critical of the Duterte Administration’s war on drugs, going as far as insinuating that Duterte has a hand in the vigilante killings that has plagued the latter’s government for the past couple of months.

Just last week, its pro-war Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power tweeted, “Alarming reports of ongoing extrajudicial killings in #Philippines; government must respect human rights and rule of law [Power]”.

Duterte is the first president since God-knows-when who took a neutral stance on the US-China rift. Since the South China Sea ruling, we have seen how Duterte chronically refused to definitively side with either. This is a welcome development for China in light of the severely antagonistic Aquino Administration.

But this is alarming for the US, as it has always been used to having Philippine presidents who are willing to kiss its ass on command. Vice-president Leni Robredo along with her political party is very much pro-US, and it would be theoretically more convenient for the Americans to have Robredo as president instead.

So why not do something to catalyze Duterte’s political demise?

The communist New People’s Army also blames the US for the Davao Bombings [Inq], but I do not want to give much credence to them, because the communists love to blame the US for everything. Besides, many Filipinos would scream, “But the US is not a terrorist!”

However, an incident from the relatively recent past suggests otherwise.

Michael Terrence Meiring

Meiring, a US citizen, was sharing a hotel room in Davao City with his ammonium nitrate bomb, which exploded on May 16, 2002. Meiring was severely injured; nevertheless, US government agents appeared at the hospital and spirited him away, first to Manila and then to the United States [AsiaTimes].

The Davao City Prosecution Office alleged that Meiring was a terrorist bomber [MindaNews], but the courts weren’t able to proceed with the case because Meiring has already been whisked out of the country by the US government itself before he can be arraigned.

"It was early in the morning when (then-US Amb.) Ricciardone flew here and met with me in a hotel here. He assured me then that they will conduct an investigation regarding the Meiring incident. Yet since then, the US government failed to fully explain to me how come they violated our sovereign right to prosecute Meiring who committed a crime here in our city," Duterte said in 2011 [Tesiorna].
Basically, in 2002, the US government coddled a terrorist who actually attempted to terrorize Davao City. So yes, the idea of US involvement in the 2016 Davao City Bombing is not far-fetched.

6th Suspect: Chinese Government

Another angle would be planted evidence, an angle that the opposition oh-so-gloriously loves to ignore when it’s convenient for them. This theory is pretty simple: the Chinese Government bombs Davao City and make it appear as if the United States did it, thereby tilting Duterte’s stance on the China-US spat.

The problem with this theory, however, is that it's unlikely.

FIRST, because China is not widely-known for state-sponsored terrorism. Aside from a CATO Institute article insinuating otherwise, there’s little documented evidence that China actually does that.

SECOND, because if it backfires, then China is toast. That is, the risks outweigh the benefits. If China indeed bombed Davao City and local investigators confirm this, then it’s over for PH-China relations for the foreseeable future, and it may even be used as a justification for a more decisive Western military presence in the South China Sea.

That’s something that China doesn’t want, especially since they see Duterte as a bright spot for often-strained PH-China ties. I cannot imagine how China can be desperate enough to do it, so they probably didn’t.

ThinkingPinoy’s Takeaways

These six potential suspects listed in this article are just theories and this article does not, in any way, definitively blame any of these six. Instead, I wrote this article to help you understand that the situation is not as simple as “De Lima did it!”. In as much as I want that woman to burn in hell, hasty generalizations are not my cup of tea.

So, who do you think did it?[ThinkingPinoy]



Did you like this post? Help ThinkingPinoy stay up! Even as little as 50 pesos will be a great help!